Vitafoods Europe 2018: Preview

The Generation Game: How are consumer demographics changing nutraceutical marketing?

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Shifting consumer demographics are revolutionising the way nutrition products are bought, sold and marketed, say experts ahead of Vitafoods Europe.

Shifts to new technologies and ever-evolving consumer demographics have sparked a revolution in the way functional foods and dietary supplements are marketed and sold in recent years.

Exciting new concepts that did not exist or seemed a ‘pipe dream’ even a decades ago – including the ideas of personal nutrition, online selling, and influencing through social media – are all now woven into the fabric of marketing strategies and commerce in our industry.

Ahead of this year’s Vitafoods Europe, several experts who will be speaking and attending the show shared their thoughts on how the ‘generation game’ is changing the way the industry works.

All about millennials?

At the heart of the matter is the shifting face of the average consumer. According to the experts, it is clear that millennials (also known as generation Y) and generation Z think differently, shop differently, and consume differently to their predecessors.

“Millennials are not afraid of paying more, as long as products are GMO-free, organic, natural and free from artificial colouring and preservatives”​ commented Nicoleta Pasenic, regulatory affairs associate at Pen & Tec consulting – who reiterated the importance of ethical considerations in any approach to health and nutrition.

However, for Monica Feldman, president of Consumer Health Strategy Inc, a defining characteristic of Generation Y is a distrust of big business.

“Whereas most media portray Millennials as wealthy and entrepreneurial, there are really very few in that group,”​ she said. “The reality is that most people in this generation are very frugal due to the impact of the global recession they went through ten years ago.”

“They are challenging traditional brands and the establishment, as they feel betrayed, and this has become a big headache for large multinational companies.”

As such, Feldman suggests marketers of nutraceuticals to be honest with millennials, and to demonstrate a genuine commitment to their welfare. 

“My advice would be to cut the hype and instead show true value.”

This idea of being open in communication is key to any marketing message aimed at millennials, added Jeff Hilton, co-Founder and chief marketing officer at Brand Hive, who emphasised the importance of transparency when marketing to millennials.

“Tell them the whole story about the brand – not just what you want them to know. Share details about how the brand started, why it was created, and how and where your ingredients are sourced. Millennials care about these things.”

Step up Gen Z…

While many suggest millennials are the key to brand success, there are some who believe the changes commonly associated with millennials will actually be delivered by the generation that follows them.

“Most people believe that millennials will drive growth in the industry, but I think it’s Generation Z that will really transform health and wellness as we know it,”​ noted Feldman.

“In the US, they’re already rebelling against unhealthy food being served at schools, and they’re the ones fully embracing becoming pescatarian, vegetarian and vegan. They didn’t grow up going to fast food chains because their Generation X parents wouldn’t let them.”

As such, Pasecinic suggests nutrition marketers need to respond to Generation Z’s desire for knowledge.

“These tech-educated consumers will be thirsty for the science behind what they eat. Marketing messages will need to do more to relay health benefits if products are going to appeal to this age group,”​ said the Pen & Tec expert.

Boomers: Still setting the agenda?

While there is a huge focus on understanding and tapping into the millennial and gen Z mindset, Dr Steffi Dudek, senior scientific consultant at analyze & realize noted that baby boomers still dominate the agenda – especially as they approach later life.

“Ageing boomers will indeed be an important target group,”​ she said. “Their increased life expectancy and lifestyle require investment in health, wellbeing and performance.  The optimization of physical and mental performance will also be a strong need for this group.”

Indeed, while meeting the needs of younger consumers is important, it is also clear from the recent Vitafoods Europe survey data that healthy ageing remains one of the most important benefit areas for nutrition companies.

Gender-neutral marketing?

One of the characteristics often ascribed to millennials and gen Z is a rejection of traditional gender roles – so could healthy foods and supplements that have been traditionally focused on just one gender also become more fluid in their marketing approach?

“Men are starting to pay more attention to their bodies and specific health needs”​ says Feldman.

“A few years ago, the ‘metrosexual’ movement was expected to make a big dent in marketing dynamics towards men, but it didn’t fully materialize,”​ she said. “This time round, it might be different because millennials and generation Z men have a more positive and proactive attitude to their health.”

“The ‘bro’ movement on social media, may be tapped to draft specific health marketing messages to this population,”​ she added. “Firms will need to go to where they hang out and have conversations. Tapping in on sports and active fitness – not sticking to general mass media – will be the way to target men.”

Meanwhile, Dr Annegret Nielsen, senior consultant at analyze & realize also believes gender roles are changing: “Men and women are slowly interchanging roles”​ she commented.

“For example, we’re starting to see men using cosmetics to improve skin function and appearance.  They’re also showing more interest in optimising personal fitness and health. In future they will more actively choose nutrition products that suit their needs.”

Indeed, Pasecinic suggests that marketing approaches that target just one gender are not well received by consumers. So will gender-neutral marketing be the way forward?

“Traditionally, most marketing in relation to food and wellness has been targeted towards females, as they’re seen as more health-conscious,”​ Pasecinic added. “However, it now seems that marketing to one gender is starting to receive negative feedback, with consumers feeling more comfortable with gender-neutral products instead.”

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